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December 30, 2013

Preview: Raiders face the Mount

Texas Tech (7-5) closes out its non-conference schedule with a home tilt against Mount St. Mary's.

WHEN: Monday, Dec. 30 at 6 p.m. CT
WHERE: Lubbock, Texas (United Spirit Arena)
RADIO/TV
: Texas Tech Sports Network (affiliates) / Fox College Sports Pacific
SERIES: This is the first meeting between the two programs. Tubby Smith is 1-0 all-time against MSM.

TECH TRENDS: It's been nine days since Texas Tech's last game and in that 14-point loss at Arizona State, many prevalent themes of the 2013-14 campaign were on display. The Red Raiders were again impressive inside, winning the points in the paint category 40-22 and out-rebounding the Sun Devils by 13.

Unfortunately, Tech's struggles from the perimeter continued -- not only in the form of their own 1-of-13 shooting line, but also in defending the perimeter. The Sun Devils hit double-digit threes against Tech for the second-straight year, canning 10-of -19 attempts.

The Red Raiders had no answer for Jermaine Marshall, who drilled 7-of-10 three-point tries en route to a season-high 27 points. Tech is now shooting 30.3 percent from three this year -- 10 points less than what Tubby Smith would ideally like to see. Opponents are hitting 36.3 percent of their threes and another good three-point shooting team comes to town tonight in Mount St. Mary's.

On the bright side, Tech continued it's recent surge from the stripe at ASU, hitting 13-
of-16 attempts for 81 percent.

OPPONENT STRENGTHS: It's been a tough row to hoe for the Mountaineers who are just 3-of-8 after scheduling major conference foes like West Virginia, Villanova, Michigan State and Penn State on their non-conference docket. The 7-5 Red Raiders can certainly relate. As cliché as it sounds, the strength of Mount St. Mary's schedule does, indeed, make them battle-tested and a recent 10-point loss at Penn State is the type of hard fought, moral victory that can sometimes springboard a small conference team to a major conference upset the next time around.

The Mountaineers actually lead with inside six minutes to go before PSU closed on a 12-2 run to win it. Veteran guard play led by Julian Norfleet and Sam Prescott -- who combined for 40 points -- helped spur along the upset bid for The Mount.

MSM also got a big boost from beyond the arc, hitting 12-of-26 threes -- an always lethal ingredient in any underdog upset bid. They'll look for more of the same perimeter success tonight. While the Mountaineers only shoot 33 percent from three on the season, they've been streaky and if the shots fall early as they did at PSU -- they hit nine first half threes -- Tech could be in for a long and nerve-racking night.

MSM's top three scorers are all senior guards who won't be the least bit intimidated coming into the United Spirit Arena, having already faced such a stiff slate.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Julian Norfleet versus Rob Turner. Both guards are scoring point guards, with Norfleet dishing a little bit more than Turner and scoring considerably more at 5.5 assists and 18.9 points per game. Chasing Jahii Carson around in Tempe, didn't work out well for Turner, who turned in one of his worst performances as a Red Raider. Turner finished 1-of-9 from the floor with four turnovers and just two assists. Norfleet has good size at 6-2 and is an impressive athlete, making this matchup another handful for Turner, but the smart money is on the Red Raider floor general bouncing back.

Tech desperately needs Turner to be a catalyst offensively and spark the scoring from a group of guards that have struggled of late. In the Red Raiders last tune-up before Big 12 play opens on Saturday against a Cyclones team that's off to the best start in Iowa State history, Tech needs its new point guard to get his groove back. This starts with winning the matchup with Norfleet.

KEYS TO THE GAME: MSM certainly has size -- Kristijan Krajina is 6-foot-10, 245 pounds and Taylor Danaher stands in at a thin 7-foot, 215 pounds -- but this is not a great rebounding team. No individual averages five boards per game and two of their top two cleaners of the glass are guards. Part of the Mountaineers minus-7.5 rebound margin is the aforementioned tough schedule they've taken on, but just as many of those previous major conference foes owned the glass versus MSM, Tech must do the same.

Jordan Tolbert needs to build off his 25 and 12 performance in Tempe and bring his rebounding buddies with him. Tech can double up the Mountaineers in the paint and have a plus-10 margin on the glass if they play to their athleticism and strength advantage in the interior. They, obviously, have to defend the perimeter better as well and would have a hard time enduring a similar three-point barrage to what MSM put o Penn State.


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